Glossophobia is the fancy word for fear of public speaking. Research indicates that approximately 75% of the population has a certain amount of fear of public speaking. One survey indicated that men are less fearful than women with 37% of men and 44% of women stating they are fearful in front of an audience. Other surveys indicate that men and women are equally fearful. Extroverts often share the same fear of public speaking as introverts.
Way too many professionals that I have worked with through the years have let this fear damage their careers or certainly limit their opportunities. Early in my career, I realized that I had to overcome my fear of speaking before a group if I wanted to reach my career potential. Following graduate school, I took a position training social workers. When you teach classes, there is certainly no way to avoid public speaking. It was one of my smartest career decisions. As you successfully “face your fears” and present information to groups of co-workers, you become more confident in your speaking abilities.
People often say, “I’m fine talking to small groups, but not large groups.” Talking in small groups is a good way to build up to speaking to larger groups. Start by asking or answering questions in small office meetings and in social settings. Whether talking to a small group or a large group, keep your tone and message conversational. Don’t be afraid to tell the group, “I don’t know the answer, but I will research your question and respond back to you.” Email sure makes this easier than it was 20 years ago!
Know what you are talking about. I once had to present a method for budgeting services that I knew “didn’t make sense”. I truthfully got laryngitis and couldn’t speak! That’s not a recommended solution. Rather, be sure you understand and agree with the material you are presenting.
Share your own relevant experiences with the group you are speaking to. Personal stories help you relax and help the audience to be more accepting of your messages. Don’t forget to laugh at yourself as you share your stories.
Visualization does not work for me, but I do find it helpful to identify a few friendly faces that you can concentrate on making eye contact with.
Practice, practice, practice prior to speaking. Stand in front of a large mirror and look into it as you practice. Time your speech, including allowing time for questions if appropriate. Practice answers to questions that may be asked including the uncomfortable ones. It’s a good idea to have notes with a few key points written down just in case your fear becomes overwhelming. Having written notes makes it far less likely that you will actually need to use them! It’s fine to have a shorter than scheduled speech. It’s not okay to run over a scheduled speech time.
My decision to force myself to overcome my fear of public speaking paid great dividends throughout my career as it has provided me a “go to job” as a trainer several times when I wanted to change positions and it has made me an “almost fearless” speaker!